Orion Keith grew up in a small town in North Idaho with a population of 99 people. His dad was mayor there for several years. While in graduate school at the University of Washington, he received the Scan|Design Foundation Fellowship to study for a year in Denmark.
He is one of several so-called boomerang employees at ZGF, having started here as an intern before graduate school and then coming back as an architectural designer. Today he works on a variety of project types and scales, with an emphasis on workplace design. Fun fact: He also bartended for ten years at various cocktail bars in Seattle. If you ask him what his favorite drink is to make, he’ll say the Vieux Carré.
Here, Orion gives us a glimpse into the design, film, and literary wonders that fuel his creativity.
When did you realize you wanted to work in architecture? When I was 13. I met my father’s friend who is an architect, and I was struck by the way he spoke about architecture. He designed cultural buildings for indigenous tribes of the region and described how designing spaces for that community gave them a place to have a voice and to celebrate their traditions. It was a view of architecture that I hadn’t heard expressed before.
How does living in the Pacific Northwest inspire you? The expansive landscape contrasted with the history of industry. Dilapidated barns laying alone in a field surrounded by towering mountains. Remnants of sawmills covered in moss, retaken by the forest. Old logging roads that have become hiking trails. The gray-violet peaks of the Olympics over the Sound.
Coffee or tea? Coffee. Too much coffee.
If you could design for a fictional character, who would it be? I imagine designing for the writers. There’s a connection between the space one inhabits and the work that is created. What would be the space that Haruki Murakami writes in? Sylvia Plath? Gabriel Garcia Marquez? It’s a question a professor once posed, and I still think about it.
Favorite tools of the trade? A Micron pen, physical models, and Rhino 3D.
What was the last podcast you listened to? “Moonrise” from The Washington Post.
Favorite movie? In the Mood for Love. Tony Leung and Maggie Chung capture a moment of loneliness in 1950s Hong Kong, a city which even then was so cramped that the walls feel like they’re closing in on the viewer. The backdrop of the dense, vertical city pushes the two together in a way that slowly sparks and then ignites.
Are you reading a book you just can’t put down? Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Perhaps one of the most difficult books I’ve read. Each sentence is calculated and defined. Nothing can be taken away or added, and each paragraph textures his intense and absurd abstraction of the final years of WWII.
Do you have any hobbies outside the office? I’m an avid runner. I recently finished my second marathon in Stockholm and am on the hunt for the next challenge to train for. I’m also a passionate music nerd.